Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From Hunter to Hunted - American Girls

by Savannah

Sloane Stephens, semifinalist at January's Australian Open, lost in straight sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-0, losing the last nine games of the match just like she did in Miami. The difference is in Miami she lost to the woman ranked #4 in the world. In Charleston she lost to #113. Sloane is ranked #16.

In a post match interview Stephens said the following:

“The last three months has definitely been super overwhelming and definitely really tough,” she said.

The admission echoed statements she had made in a in a roundtable interview Monday..

“From last year things have really changed, being seeded and getting byes first round, it’s definitely a completely different situation,” Stephens, who was ranked as low as No. 92 as recently as May 2012, said. “But I think the expectations are definitely tough. It’s just a completely different situation, but it’s definitely in perspective because I’ve gone through so many changes and so many different things.”

She added: “But I mean like I said, it’s a really good place to be in, and I’m happy that I’m in this situation, because if I wasn’t I’d obviously be grinding and struggling in qualies every week, and it’d be tough. But I think now I’ve done pretty well, and I just want to keep the momentum going.”

David Nainkin who was counseling her last week, was not there today. Instead Troy Hahn of the USTA was coaching her. His advice?
“This is your first week on clay — find the tennis you want to play,” said Hahn during an on-court coaching visit midway through the second set.

Yeah that would surely make me want to run out and do some stuff. Yeah.

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I've been hearing about another young American woman, Jessica Pegula a lot since the beginning of the year. She took three sets to take out Garbine Muguruza, another up and comer from Spain, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5 Monday and faced the #8 seed Mona Barthel Tuesday. After a match like that you'd think the 19 year old would've been running on fumes but she made Barthel look totally inept and lost on the court as she took her out 7-6(4), 6-1. Pegula is a little more fit now than she is in the picture I posted but she's totally fit between the ears. Her coach, Michael Joyce, once coached someone named Maria Sharapova. His on court coaching was laid back and conversational. No screaming and gesticulating. Just a conversation between a coach and his charge.

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Eighteen year old Grace Min is another young American who got a surprise win against a higher ranked player. She won her first set against Tamara Paszek, the #13 seed 6-3 after which Paszek promptly retired. I hope to see Grace play later this week.

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Next up for Min will be 18 year old Madison Keys.Keys won her first round match 7-6(3), 6-4 against Alexandra Cadantu of Romania. I hope Min vs Keys is on a television court.

The one player Melanie Oudin has always been able to defeat is Jelena Jankovic. Today however JJ decided she wasn't having it and won the match 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Melanie's coach was giving her decent advice, advice that enabled her to win the second set. But, and there's no delicate way to put it, Melanie needs to get off of the see food diet. All of the diminutive women players are fit. Look at Sara Errani or Dominika Cibulkova. Not a love handle or beer gut in sight. The smaller players need the mobility that fitness brings in order to compete with their bigger, stronger peers. I've talked about fitness and American tennis players, male and female, already this year. You may get lucky and win a set from a higher ranked player but winning, consistently winning, is a pipe dream without fitness and the discipline it requires.

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I watched Christina McHale lose to fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 3-6, 6-4, 2-6 and wondered what had happened to her game. McHale has left USTA coaching and is working with Gordon Uehling. McHale is young enough to make a change that could show results by the time the US summer hard court season comes around.

All of these young women want to become the hunted but the support system around the top players, family, close friends, nutritionists, cushions them and allows them to focus on what they need to do to be at the top of the sport. All of these women are good, some are very good. The difference between them and the players at the top is coaching, and as I've already said, discipline. I'll be watching these players and hope to give a "Hunter to Hunted" report in August just before the US Open.


Karen said...

With all the cry that American tennis is dead, it is absolutely great to see so many young, talented players coming up the ranks. What is even more eye opening is all the young women of colour who are now wearing the red, white and blue. I guess the powers that be still think that American tennis is dead simply because there are no men in the ranks. Tennis in the US seems to be all about the men, but I tell you, after Venus and Serena retire, the next wave for American women's tennis is looking pretty darned good.

Savannah said...

I agree Karen. All of a sudden there are all these women in their late teens and early twenties who could really start making their way up the ranks. I didn't even mention Mallory Burdette who made a good showing today upsetting Sabine Lisicki in Charleston.

But for the tennis in general and the US in particular it is always about the men. And right now there aren't any guys that I know about on the immediate horizon.

It's going to be an interesting five years.

Karen said...

It is and I wonder when they are going to start crediting Venus and Serena for the resurgence in US women's tennis. Not for nothing so many players look up to these 2 young women. i am so looking forward to the movie and I am really glad that both Sisters eventually gave their blessing to the movie. Going to ask my son to order it on iTunes so that I can get to watch it, or I may just wait until it comes to the cinema. Fantastic for women's tennis and fantastic for both women as well

Savannah said...

Both of the Williams are still writing tennis history. To be honest I think the US tennis establishment wishes they would go away since their debt to them isn't as big as some of their peers.

Their independence is what is rubbing off on the younger girls. Sloane did take herself to Spain for training on red clay and Christina McHale has left the USTA player development program and chosen her own coach. Taylor Townsend went pro as soon as she could and is coached by Kathy Rinaldi who is part of the USTA team.

We'll see if these women are able to do what they need to do for themselves so that they can reach the next level. And in the end that's what Venus and Serena did. No matter their hitting coaches their parents are always around.